Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foxes in the henhouse

So that escalated quickly.

I commented just a couple of weeks ago on the fact that more and more science policy leadership positions in Congress are being filled by people who evidently have no regard whatsoever for science.  Further, with the recent elections, two more important positions seem likely to go that way -- the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to notoriously anti-science Senator James Inhofe, and the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space to the equally objectionable Senator Ted Cruz.

So it appears that both the House and the Senate are going to be looking at a long spell in which the advice of actual scientists is going to be roundly ignored.

What I didn't expect, however, is how quickly these clowns were going to act on their newfound majority.  "Strike while the iron is hot" appears to be advice they have taken to heart.  Which explains why House Resolution 1422 passed handily, 229-191.

Never heard of H.R. 1422?  This piece of legislation accomplishes two things: (1) it allows corporate interests to act as direct advisors on the Environmental Protection Agency's advisory board; and (2) it prevents scientists from participating in "advisory activities" regarding their own research, calling those activities "a conflict of interest."

Yes, you got it right.  Allowing corporations access to influencing policy so they can turn a profit is not a conflict of interest.  Allowing actual working scientists that same access, with respect to research on which they are the experts, is a conflict of interest.

Now, couple that with a second House bill that is currently in committee -- the "Secret Science Reform Act" -- which would "prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible."

In other words: scientific research has to pass the evaluation of non-scientists in order to be considered valid.  Otherwise, it's "secret science."  None of them complicated climate models or fancy-pants math that us reg'lar folks can't understand.  Keep it nice and simple and obvious, like, "It's cold outside today, so global warming ain't real."

These two bills amount to a two-pronged end run that could hamstring sensible environmental policy for decades. But it's not like the move isn't completely transparent; the whole thing is about further discrediting climate change research, and (ultimately) dismantling the EPA.  Both of which are explicit goals of the current policymakers in Congress.

At least one Representative called it correctly -- Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said, upon the passage of H.R. 1422, "I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients.  But we need science to protect public health and the environment."  His views, however, appear to represent a minority of our current elected officials.

The whole thing is really the culmination of a leadership, and a citizenry, that is increasingly suspicious of science as a pursuit.  Anti-science media has characterized scientists as evil money-grubbers, supporting the party line so they can get lucrative grants, and thus bolstering the interests of "environmental extremists" or "godless anti-religion evolutionists" or "Big Pharma."  Research, therefore, is cast in the light of spin, and hard data as fundamentally biased (or outright falsehood).

And as we've seen before, when you can get people to distrust the facts, you can get them to believe anything.

So the situation is: we have foxes running the henhouse, a public that has been largely trained to distrust the scientific method, and corporate interests who are determined to become the drivers of science policy and science research in the United States.

Heaven help us all.

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